knight death and the devil durer
In a 2011 episode of the reality TV series Pawn Stars, Las Vegas pawnbroker Rick Harrison purchased a Knight, Death, and the Devil print for $5500. The expert appraisal suggested he could fetch $20,000 to $50,000 at auction for the rare engraving.
“In order that you may not be deterred from the path of virtue because it seems rough and dreary … and because you must constantly fight three unfair enemies—the flesh, the devil, and the world—this third rule shall be proposed to you: all of those spooks and phantoms which come upon you as if you were in the very gorges of Hades must be deemed for naught after the example of Virgil’s Aeneas … Look not behind thee.”
The rider’s visor is lifted, displaying a shaven face that is fixed in a stoical expression, while an animal pelt is tied below the tip of his lance. A medium-sized and shaggy-coated hound, its ears dropped and rearward-facing, runs between the mounted figures of death and the knight while a lizard crawls in the opposite direction of the procession amidst the falling hooves.
A sundial, mounted on top of the hourglass, casts its shadow on five while the volume of sand in the upper-half of the hourglass suggests that the rider has already spent half of his allotted time on earth. Death’s horse, its left ear pointing up and its right ear level, lowers its head and looks towards a human skull that sits on top of a tree stump.
It is generally believed that the portrayal is a literal, though pointed, celebration of the knight’s Christian faith, and also of the ideals of humanism. An alternative interpretation was presented in 1970 by writer Sten Karling, and later by Ursula Meyer, who suggested that the work did not seek to glorify the knight, but instead depicts a “robber knight” (raubritter). They point to the lack of Christian or religious symbolism in the work and to the fox’s tail wrapped on top the knight’s lance – in Greek legend  the fox’s tail was a symbol of greed, cunning and treachery, as well as lust and whoring.  However, knights were commonly depicted in contemporary art with a fox tail tied to the tip of their lance. Moreover, the fox tail was a common form of protective amulet.  in this interpretation Death and the Devil are merely the knight’s companions on his journey, not omens. 
According to Elizabeth Lunday the “skeletal figure of death stands ghostly pale against the darkness of a shadowy crag, while the devil, a multihorned goatlike creature, skulks amongst straggly tree roots.”  Death is shown with his horse in the left background and rendered without nose or lips in lighter shades than the other figures.  A skull is seen in the lower foreground, directly in the Knight’s path, whilst a dog is running between the two horses.
Henrich Wölfflin, The Art of Albrecht Dürer, London 1971.
However, more recent studies challenge the interpretation of the ‘Christian Knight’, pointing out that it overlooks the social and political context of Dürer’s time. Historical documentation refers to the phenomena of Robber Knights, who attacked and louted dealers and merchants, threatening trade and finances of cities such as Nuremberg (Dürer’s place of birth and principal place of residence). Evidence of Dürer’s contempt for these figures may exist in an earlier artwork, Death and Landsknecht (1510). In the 1510 woodcut, Death confronts the indifferent Knight, who appears unconcerned by the ominous encounter. The woodcut is accompanied by a poem written by the artist, in which he warns those who do not pay their dues in this life. If indeed the knight in Knight, Death and the Devil is a ‘Robber Knight’, the devil and death are not his adversaries, but rather his companions. In this case, the knight could be seen as passive or compliant. The contrary interpretations of the knight also impact the analysis of other details in the engraving, such as the foxtail attached to the tip of the knight’s lance. In the context of the ‘Christian Knight’ interpretation, the foxtail can be seen as a good luck charm. In contrast, according to the ‘Robber Knight’ analysis, the foxtail can symbolize the trickery and the cunning nature of the fox.
Knight, Death and the Devil (1513), is one of Dürer’s most famous and most complex artworks that has been subject to much debate among art historians. At the heart of the controversy is the figure of the knight, and his symbolic function and meaning. Frequently, Dürer’s knight was interpreted as a symbol of moral virtue, an embodiment of the ideal of the ‘Christian Knight’. Following this interpretation the knight is a stoic figure, unfazed by the devil and the monsters that try to entice him. The knight is protected by his armor, and accompanied by his dog, a symbol of loyalty. Some have tied the conception of the engraving to the Handbook of a Christian Knight, written by the Dutch humanist, Erasmus of Rotterdam. It was also suggested that the knight could have been modeled after several historical figures, including Martin Luther, Pope Julius II and Franz von Sickingen, a German knight and important figure of the early period of the Reformation.